Are you someone who enjoys solving mysteries, analyzing evidence, and cracking cases? Do you have a keen eye for detail and a natural curiosity for understanding human behavior? If so, then becoming a police detective in California might be the perfect career path for you!

As a police detective, you will work on investigating crimes, interviewing witnesses and suspects, and gathering evidence to bring perpetrators to justice. It’s a challenging but rewarding career that requires a combination of analytical thinking, communication skills, and physical agility.

Now, before we dive into the steps on how to become a police detective in California, let’s clear up a common misconception: No, police and detectives are not the same. While police officers are responsible for maintaining law and order and enforcing laws, detectives focus primarily on solving crimes and gathering evidence to build a case.

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Should I Become a Detective in California?

To work as a detective in California means you have to work under the California Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The data reported by the US Bureau of Labor Statisticsin 2019 states that California had 11,810 Detectives and Criminal Investigators employed all over the state.

  • Education Required
  • Major Requirement
  • Licenses/Certifications
  • Experience/Training
  • Key Skills
  • Annual Mean Salary (2021)-California
  • Annual Mean Salary (2021)-National
  • A college degree (either associate’s or bachelor’s)
  • Criminology, Criminal Justice or another related subject
  • Police License is required
  • Attending a PoliceTraining Academy is mandatory
  • Attention to Detail, Integrity, Physical Stamina &Strength; Problem-solving, Observational, Communication, Leadership, Interpersonal Skills, etc.
  • $107,650 (Detectives and Criminal Investigators)
  • $90,370 (Detectives and Criminal Investigators)
  • 2% (Detectives and Criminal Investigators)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2019)

Career Outlook for a Detective in California

According to the data from O*Net Online, the projected growth rate for detectives in California is 2% between 2020 and 2030, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. While this growth rate is not particularly high, there is still a demand for detectives in California due to the state’s large population and diverse economy.

In addition to job growth, there are also opportunities for career advancement within the detective field. Experienced detectives may be promoted to supervisory roles, such as sergeant or lieutenant, or may be assigned to specialized units, such as homicide or cybercrime.

While the job market for detectives in California may not be expanding rapidly, there is still a need for skilled professionals in this field, and there are opportunities for career advancement and growth.

Job Description of Police Detectives

Police detectives are responsible for investigating and solving crimes. Their job duties may include:

  • Gathering and analyzing evidence to build a case against a suspect
  • Interviewing witnesses, victims, and suspects to obtain information about the crime
  • Working closely with other law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI or DEA, to gather intelligence and collaborate on investigations
  • Writing reports and documenting evidence to present in court
  • Testifying in court as an expert witness
  • Conducting surveillance to gather information about criminal activity
  • Serving warrants and making arrests

While police officers and detectives have different job responsibilities, both roles fall under the umbrella of law enforcement. The term “police detective” also emphasizes the fact that detectives are part of the police department and work alongside other law enforcement officers to uphold the law and maintain public safety. Now, let’s take a look at the key differences between police officers and detectives:

Police Officer


Responsible for maintaining law and order, responding to emergencies, and enforcing lawsResponsible for investigating crimes, gathering evidence, and solving cases
Typically work in uniform and patrol a specific areaMay work in plainclothes and focus on specific types of crimes, such as homicide or narcotics
Usually do not have a college degree requirement, but must complete police academy trainingMay require a college degree and specialized training in investigative techniques
May have opportunities for promotion to supervisory roles, such as sergeant or lieutenantMay have opportunities for promotion to specialized units, such as homicide or cybercrime
Job duties may include traffic control, issuing citations, and responding to non-criminal calls for serviceJob duties may include conducting surveillance, serving warrants, and interviewing witnesses and suspects


To become a detective in California, you typically need to have a college degree in criminal justice, criminology, or a related field, as well as several years of experience working as a police officer. Here is some information on a few recommended degrees and programs to help you get started on your path towards becoming a detective in California:



Degree TypeCoursesSkills TaughtDuration
California State University, FullertonBachelor of Science in Criminal JusticeCriminal Law and Procedure, Policing and Law Enforcement, Research Methods in Criminal JusticeInvestigation Techniques, Communication Skills, Critical Thinking4 years
University of California, IrvineMaster of Advanced Study in Criminology, Law and SocietyTheories of Crime and Deviance, Research Design and Analysis, Criminal Justice Policy and ManagementData Analysis, Program Evaluation, Leadership and Management1 year
National UniversityBachelor of Science in Criminal Justice AdministrationCriminal Law and Procedure, Investigation and Forensic Science, Ethics and Professionalism in Criminal JusticeLeadership and Management, Communication Skills, Problem Solving4 years

These are just a few examples of degree programs that may be helpful for aspiring detectives in California. Keep in mind that requirements and recommendations may vary depending on the department or agency you wish to work for, so it’s important to research the specific requirements in your area.

Steps to Become a Detective in California

The requirements to become a detective in California typically vary for every city and the local police departments.However, most of these departments require detectives to complete the following steps.

Earn a College Degree

Almost all police departments in California require their detectives to have earned a college degree. It means they must either have a 2-year associate’s degree or a 4-year bachelor’s degree in Criminology,Law Enforcement, Criminal Justiceor anotherrelevant subject.

Serve as a Police/Patrol Officer

Almost all departments in California require candidates to have at least 3 to 5 years of work experience as a police/patrol officer before applying for a detective’s slot.
All candidates must get hired as police/patrol officers by the relevant police departments.The hiring process often includes multiple tests such as, medical exam, physical fitness exam, psychological exam, background checks, a written exam and graduation from the police academy etc. All departments have different requirements as well as hiring process. It is better to directly contact the relevant department and enquire about the recruitment information.

Graduate fromthe Police Training Academy

All candidates must have proof ofgraduating from the relevant police training academy. Thepolice training academy trains all new recruits in handling firearm, controlling traffic, state and local laws, first aid, collection of evidence and self-defense etc.

Apply for the Post of Detective

Majority of the police departments internally promote their officers to the post of a detective instead of recruiting them from outside. In case of a transfer, departments usually request you to submit a formal letter of intent to the detective unit you want towork with. As soon as the post becomes available, you will have to undergo the selection process and upon successful hiring, you may work as a detective.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Detective in California?

It depends on how and when you completed your education and how much work experience you have gained as a police officer. Typically, it may take you anywhere between 6 to 8 years to work as a detective in California. It may take less time if you complete the requirements early and have an excellent profile.

What Are the Requirements of Becoming a Detective in California?

To work as a detective in California, you must:

  • Be a legal US citizen and have a valid driving license
  • Earn a college degree in Criminology or another related subject
  • Clear all required tests
    • Medical, physical, psychological exams
    • Written exam
    • Background checks and criminal records etc.
  • Successfully graduate fromthe police academy
  • Serve as a Police/Patrol Officer for 3 to 5 years
  • Apply for the Post of a detective
  • Pass the interview and required tests

How Much Can I Make as a Detective in California?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported $107,650 as the annual mean salary for Detectives and Criminal Investigators employed in California in 2021.

Following is a list of the five highest paying US states for this occupation.

How Much Can I Make as a Detective in California

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

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